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Beagle 2

Beagle 2 is a landing spacecraft that forms part of the European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express mission. It was conceived, designed and built by a group of British academics headed by Professor Colin Pillinger[?] of the Open University. Its purpose is to search for signs of Martian life, past or present, and its name reflects this goal, as Professor Pillinger explained:

"HMS Beagle was the ship that took Darwin on his voyage around the world in the 1830s and led to our knowledge about life on Earth making a real quantum leap. We hope Beagle 2 will do the same thing for life on Mars."

Beagle 2 has a robotic arm known as the Payload Adjustable Workbench (PAW - geddit?), that will be extended after landing. The PAW contains a pair of stereo cameras, a microscope, a Mössbauer spectrometer[?], an X-ray spectrometer[?], a drill for collecting rock samples and a spotlamp. Rock samples will be passed by the PAW into a mass spectrometer in the body of the lander, which will be used to measure the relative proportions of different isotopes of carbon. Since carbon is thought to be the basis of all life, these readings could reveal whether the sample contains the remnants of living organisms.

In an effort to publicise the project and gain financial support, its designers sought and received the endorsement and participation of British artists. The mission's call-sign was composed by the band Blur, and the test card that will be used to calibrate Beagle 2's cameras after landing was painted by Damien Hirst[?].

Mars Express launched from Baikonur at 17:45 GMT (18:45 BST) on 2 June 2003, and Beagle 2 is expected to touch down at Isidis Planitia[?], a sedimentary basin in Mars' northern hemisphere, on Christmas Day, 2003.

External links

  • Beagle 2 (http://www.beagle2.com)
  • Mars Express (http://spdext.estec.esa.nl/content/doc/8f/27791_.htm)
  • BBC guide to Beagle 2 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/sci_nat/03/race_to_mars/mission_guide/html/beagle_2.stm)

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